theresa may

Woman gets top job

The news that Theresa May has been appointed leader of the Conservative Party, and tomorrow will Prime Minister, brought back to my mind some research I came across while developing my new module. She is adamant she will make a success of Brexit; that which has been called the poisoned chalice, and long “May” she succeed (the pun headline writers will surely be having a field day after Cameron).

Here is the excerpt from Human Resource Development (second edition) by David McGuire:

“The concept of the ‘glass cliff’ was introduced by Michelle Ryan and Alexander Haslam (2004) to explore a phenomenon whereby women’s suitability for promotion rises when the chances of failure increases. In their research, Ryan and Haslam (2007) found that because women were more likely to be appointed to top management positions during crisis periods, the rise to their leadership increase and they are more likely to encounter rising levels of conflict and higher stress levels leading to greater exposure to criticism.”

Of course, May has been compared to Margaret Thatcher. This is largely because that was the only other woman to ever hold her new position. Although they are of the same political persuasian, May’s standing in that regard has already been questioned. Immediately after her inaugural speech yesterday, she was criticised for stealing the content, mainly from New Labour but also from a host of other prominent (male) politicians. Because a woman can’t have her own ideas. And it obviously goes without saying that she only got the job because everyone else pulled out…

I think (hope, pray) she will do a good job.


A Tale of Two Voters

My dad turned 70 last year. He’s a lifelong right-wing staunch Tory who completes The Telegraph crossword daily. As you may expect he’s very traditional; he was and still is the epitome of a very anti-liberal parent (and grandparent). To me he’s an enigma, yet I have a sneaking suspiscion he’s a working class soul trapped in a middle class body. Him and his wife split their time between Yorkshire and France, where he’s still climbing on roofs doing up their converted barn.

About a month ago my dad was desperate to ask me if I’d voted yet. “Dad” I laughed, “It’s not until the 23rd!”. He  however had already signed and sealed his postal vote and was desperate to impress on me to Vote Remain. I was surprised at this new openness (he never told me he was married for 10 years) but glad we were on the same page.

On Saturday we visited my brother and sister-in-law. They live in a nice gated community just outside of Sunderland. His dad is a jolly, open man who used to be a successful greengrocer in the city, where he now lives a comfortable retirement. He voted Leave because we can’t deport foreign murderers.

Those looking at the dry statistics of who voted what have been quick to blame the older generation. Now we’re not in the EU any more we clearly need a different scapegoat. But before you write my dad off as the one Baby Boomer who didn’t want to crush the youth of today, I believe my story makes another point.

Two men,  both relatively comfortable. They’re roughly the same age so it wasn’t that which made the difference in their voting preferences. What did?

There are those who have argued that social class is dead. Globalisation has opened the doors to social mobility. Individualisation has destroyed the class collectivity (Trade Unions, jobs-for-life). This week has proved that those theories are fundamentally flawed.

If we don’t tackle the underlying reasons for this rift in our Country we are truly doomed. People vote because of their own personal circumstances not because they want to hurt others. Let’s stop pointing the finger and start looking for answers.


No Going Back

The small, now defunct, local authority at which I started my career had a room termed “the bunker”; a veritable treasure trove of dusty government papers, untouched by data laws, hidden behind large metal locked doors. For young apprentices like me, a shift in the bunker was like some sort of initiation. It was here we found old sets of 1970s committee minutes.

How strange it was to read, in typeset, of the women secretaries tendering their resignations because they were getting married. From our vantage point of hindsight we laughed at their predicament as only young ambitious women privileged with opportunity can.

My mum used to tell me that as a child all she wanted was a typewriter, but she believed in Santa Claus so much that she didnt tell anybody, and so year after year, her wish never came true. As a child of the 1950s, born to a generation older than the parents of her peers (my grandad was 53 when she was born), she was an unusual mix of modern and traditional. Although intelligent and gifted, she worked from home as a mobile hairdresser until I was around 8, baking homemade egg custards and hand sewing our clothes.

My research into unemployment has uncovered some fascinating stories, in particular the story of Singer outlined in “Falling from Grace” by . For women of the past who gave up work to get married, their prized wedding present was a sewing machine by the top brand, Singer. It’s factories in Port Elizabeth, New York and Clydebank in Glasgow provided work for tens of thousands of local people. In a spiralling descent,as demand declined attempts to improve productivity destroyed the pride and familial working relationships that had made the brand great. By the 1980s its factories were gone, decimating community ties and leaving a legacy of mass unemployment.

For many that gap has never been filled and those people aren’t swallowing the neoliberal political narrative that we’ve off shored those dirty, hard jobs in the name of progress. They’ve lost a sense of commitment, pride and security that previous generations promised them. Manual jobs are constructed as “unskilled” and the unemployed (including stay at home parents) are tarred with the same “lazy scrounger” brush. The belief that “any job is better than no job” means low unemployment figures hide a dearth of people just scraping by.

The Welsh town showered with EU money yet still voted out is clear case in point. They don’t want the shiny new sports centre and shops, they want the return of the heavy industry that defined them. In communities across the country it’s the same story, be it ship building (Hartlepool), car manufacturing or coal mining. The destruction of British firms that “made this country great”, and could have been our means to self-reliance, started a long long time ago. Most of us may wish to confine those times to the bunker, to be occasionally wheeled out to laugh at how crazy they were; but for some, that was the best period of their lives.

I voted for Remain for lots of reasons. I believe we’re better together, that to leave will cost astronomical amounts of money we don’t have and personally (doesn’t everyone vote personally) things were good for me. That doesn’t mean I don’t think things need to change.

(N.B. The photograph is my mum as a little girl in the 1950s being held by her sister on her wedding day. My auntie gave up her job as a secretary to start a family).


Failing businesses owe multiple debts

It’s unfortunate, but not unexpected news that retail giant BHS has had to call in the administrators – an all too common trend among time served retailers. Of those who haven’t crumbled like C&A or Woolworths, many (WHSmith for example) have been close. Understandably, a common pressure placed on businesses to perform is that of its shareholders. They’ve made a financial investment which failure will see them lose, and conversely if the business is successful they may make significant gains. But what about other types of investments made in businesses – of time, of careers, of people? Retail workers don’t deserve to be mistreated, as has been the case in the past, or to be tainted with the mark of failed enterprise. They certainly do deserve our sympathy.

Even though our economy is now heavily service-based, retail workers are still getting a poor deal. Commonly exposed to insecure employment practices; at best they’re treated as seasonal. At worst, disposable. They may be part of the “new” economy where this is expected in the name of the double-edged sword that is flexibility, but retail is one of the oldest service-based professions around. However, in a society fuelled by consumerism, held together by adherence to the latest fad or trend, that professionalism is on increasingly shaky foundations.

In Sennett’s seminal book The Corrosion of Character he talks about visiting an Italian bakery a couple of decades apart. In the first instance the bakery is staffed by sweaty Italians kneading dough. Some time later, the retired Italians have been replaced by a mix of unskilled workers baking bread by pressing buttons on computers. They have no control over the product and the industrial bins outside are often full of burnt bread. The workers don’t see themselves as bakers; they could be staffing any shop. Although the workers have no attachment to the product, or even the company, it doesn’t seem to bother them. Neither does it really bother the company – despite the stoppages due to failed batches, the bread is still hugely popular. It’s the perfect microcosm of the modern retail conumdrum. There are no skills – which makes them completely transferable. And there’s no attachment, be it to an organisation or a product, again allowing complete mobility. Employee loyalty would appear to completely mirror fickle customer loyalty; an ever-fading memory in the search for the next best deal.

It’s easy to forget that we’ve done this to ourselves. When products are disposable, people and even organisations need to be too. Because there’s so much choice, and because turnover in the retail indsutry is so high, a customer will rarely see the same employee more than a handful of times in visiting a huge department store like BHS. What does it matter to us if someone else can easily give us something better, for cheaper, somewhere else? We are encouraged by the expectation that the hole in the high street will soon be swallowed by someone new selling something we actually do need (or so they tell us).

Some of the retailing trends we’ve witnessed over a century or so have been cyclical – such as getting your groceries delivered. Albeit it’s now a global giant on your doorstep who substitutes macadamias for mushrooms rather than a local familiar face who could tell you when the next shipment would be in. If we want a bit of quality and personality, it’s four times the price. Many retailers have been too complacent in spoon feeding us what they think we want, or worse, what they like to tell us we want. Of course it’s their people on the ground who could have told them that, but unfortunately it looks like they’ve stopped listening.




Why the homeless can’t get a job

One of the first things I did in my last role (as HR and Business Strategy Manager at a social housing company) was to attend a conference on homelessness. Living and working in a fairly rural area meant that this was an issue I was aware of, but wasn’t faced with on a daily basis (in fact far less often than that). Despite this lack of real-life experience, I’ve always believed it was a worthy cause. I was inspired to write a blog following the event on what I believed HR could do to help the homeless. 

The plush hotel where the homelessness conference was held is right opposite the train station. Now on my commute to my new role in the city I walk past it twice a day. The remainder of my walk is punctuated by the homeless begging at their regular posts. Despite wanting to help I often feel paralysed by the scale of the problem. I try to give a smile and a nod, otherwise I put my head down like everyone else and try to make my train on time. 

I’ve witnessed real kindness towards their plight. A man convincing his girlfriend to go back and give a five pound note to a man begging in the subway. An elderly lady reaching inside her bag for a donation, after which the homeless guy told her it was his birthday. A few weeks ago it was me reaching in my pocket for a bit of change to throw into a proffered cup. I don’t know why that day was different but I was happy and had a few coins to hand. However my good deed quickly turned sour when, as I bent down to hand over roughly 40 pence, a passer by warned me not to part with my hard-earned cash. “They have more money than us!” she laughed, adding as if to somehow emphasise her point, “I work at the job centre”. As I looked down at the poor guy huddled in his grey sleeping bag he quietly said “thanks for stopping”. Feeling shocked, I carried on my way. 

There have been numerous stories in the press recently about “fake” homeless people begging because it pays better than work, or even to supplement their existing income. One journalist tried this for himself, showing that those who appeared to have little themselves seemed more willing to help the apparently homeless (all proceeds were donated to a homeless charity). However, I do not believe this is widespread, and I do not wish to start to question whether the benefactor of my 40 pence doesn’t take shelter when it’s raining because a sorry looking wet tramp earns more than a dry one. 

What I would really like to question is why a government employee has such disdain for her apparent client group, and more importantly why has she not done what she is supposed to and enabled this man to earn a living? Surely anyone with a decent job in need of some extra cash would rather monitor their Just Giving page from home with a cup of tea than sit on a frozen pavement. I do not deny that she has a tough job, given an ever diminishing view of what talent looks like and any kind of gap in a CV being its passport to the recycling bin. That’s not even taking account of the taint that any kind of criminal conviction (even minor and well spent) will leave, despite any kind of equality legislation in place. A UK labour market which has little demand for low skilled jobs doesn’t help either. Yet her attitude was completely unacceptable.

What was emphasised by the homelessness conference was that what is needed is clearly a home, along with a job to support it. The difficulty is finding a role from an inferior position which is secure and will pay enough to cover the bills, bearing in mind that the homeless often have nobody to fall back on, being the reason for their predicament in the first place. The majority of people on the streets deserve sympathy and help, whatever their situation. If you don’t want to “spare some change” then fine, but don’t persecute those who do. 

(Photo is from the art project by Kenji Nakayama and Christopher Hope, signs for the homeless

i got skills

Have you got the skills? #TagTeamBlog2

Here it is folks, the second Tag Team/Co-blog from myself and my “spiritual partner in HR”, the one and only Mr Perry Timms (@PerryTimms). This time we’re discussing skills and to resolve the UK conundrum of skills being viewed as a social and economic panacea (a point raised by Keep & Mayhew back in 2010). Continue reading “Have you got the skills? #TagTeamBlog2”

Wishing you were somehow here

Job Loss: Wishing you were somehow here again

“Too many years fighting back tears
Why can’t the past just die?
Wishing you were somehow here again
Knowing we must say, “Goodbye”
Try to forgive, teach me to live
Give me the strength to try
No more memories, no more silent tears
No more gazing across the wasted years” Continue reading “Job Loss: Wishing you were somehow here again”